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More to Gaff than meets the eye

Walking off the Visy Park turf after a close Preliminary Final loss, Oakleigh Chargers coach Steve Grace knew his talented winger would be a star AFL footballer.

It was a game where Dyson Heppell put in a match-winning performance for Gippsland Power as his side came from behind to seal a spot in the 2010 TAC Cup Grand Final.

But Grace remembers the match as one that reaffirmed in his mind that a nonchalant youngster by the name of Andrew Gaff was also destined for greatness.

“His last TAC Cup game told me a lot about him,” Grace told

“He was coming off a huge workload for Carey Grammar and for us. He played all the carnival games for Vic Metro and was sore leading into the Preliminary Final against Gippsland that year.

“Dyson Heppell had 41 touches and they beat us by 11 points but we started the game well and were up by 24 points at quarter time. Gaffy had about 14 disposals in the first quarter while going head-to-head with Heppell who only had four touches himself.

“Take nothing away from Dyson’s performance because Gippsland won, but Andrew Gaff had 40 touches as well while playing sore.

“He spent most of the day on the ball and just kept giving — he had almost as much of the ball in the last quarter as he had in the first.”

The Oakleigh Chargers loss ended a long TAC Cup career for Gaff.

He unusually made his debut as a 16-year-old in late 2008 as a squad midfielder with a dinky left-foot who had a knack at being where the ball was.

The main characteristics Gaff possesses today were evident in his teenage self — a tireless work ethic and a humble nature.

But due to being a quiet and unassuming kid from one of inner-Melbourne’s top schools, Gaff’s toughness on and off the field is often misjudged by pundits and opponents, a theory which Grace subscribes to.

“We, as a society, like putting people into boxes,” Grace added.

“A private schoolboy drafted to a club that wasn’t going well at the time in a hard caper, not many would’ve thought he’d stay in Perth long.

“When he left for the Eagles, I knew there was no way known that kid was coming back. He’s made of a lot more mettle than what people originally thought.

“Because he’s such a genuine young man, I think people at first underestimate him and don’t understand the drive and willpower he has.

“He has a real steely resolve about him.”

Gaff is a casual figure at the Eagles. He’s not overly prevalent in the media and when he does, you can’t hear him in Melbourne’s overpopulated footy bubble.

Much of his personality remains hidden from the public’s eye with his family, friends and teammates only able to see the real Gaff behind closed doors.

“He’s easy to get along with and has quite a dry sense of humour — I love that about him,” West Coast teammate Elliot Yeo said.

“He keeps to himself and is a bit introverted but once you get to know him he can be quite a funny man.

“He likes to keep a bit of a low profile, which isn’t unusual. That sums up Gaffy, he likes to go about his business but he can get along with anyone.”

It’s hard to find a flaw in Gaff’s character, but that’s not to say he’s perfect.

Yeo describes the 25-year-old’s locker as a dumpster that doesn’t have the most pleasant smell but that’s the only dirt associated with the soon-to-be 150-gamer.

He’s a professional, he wouldn’t have gotten to 150 games in such a short period of time without being methodical in his preparation.

Since his debut in Round 1, 2011, Gaff has only missed one game through injury — a much publicised concussion in 2016 following a game against Port Adelaide in Round 9.

The majority of players are proficient when it comes to their preparation but Gaff seems to have it worked out better than most.

Grace believes it may stem back to his father’s involvement in tennis — a sport which Gaff was gifted at — and the attention to detail in which tennis players and coaches analyse their sport.

But of all of Gaff’s traits, it’s his personable nature that impresses his former coach most.

“He’s one of the most respectful young men I’ve ever met. Nothing is a hard task for him.

“If you had a job for him, he would accept it with no fuss even if it made him uncomfortable, so he was a joy to coach.

“The thing that holds him in the best stead is his level-headedness. You don’t see the highs or the lows with Gaffy.”

There might be bigger stars at the Eagles — flashier players with game-breaking pace and better skills — but you’d struggle to find more a more important player for the club on the field and a more genuine person off it.